In today's fast-paced world of logistics, the supply chain is constantly evolving, with new technologies emerging to revolutionise how goods are transported and managed. Among these innovations, supply chain visibility tools have become a cornerstone for large corporations, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and freight forwarders alike. These cutting-edge tools offered by logistics tech companies are not just a trend; they have become a necessity. While many cargo-centric companies have embraced supply chain visibility tools, streamlining their operations and reducing administrative hassles, others still ponder the fundamental question: What exactly does supply chain visibility mean for business? In this blog, we embark on a journey to demystify this concept and clarify its profound impact on business.
Supply Chain Visibility Example – A Fresh Perspective
Before we delve into the formal definition of supply chain visibility, let's simplify it for a moment. Imagine ordering a book on Amazon. You place your order, and right away, you're given an Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) for your delivery. As your book begins its journey, you can track its progress in real-time—whether it has left the warehouse, been picked up by the delivery person, and even when it's expected to arrive at your doorstep. It's a straightforward and hassle-free process, right? Now, picture this: what if you didn't have these real-time updates, and your delivery was significantly delayed without any explanation? Frustrating, isn't it?
Now, expand this scenario to your logistics team, which is responsible for moving thousands of containers annually, both domestically and internationally. Tracking and monitoring these shipments with real-time updates is far more intricate than keeping tabs on a single book order from Amazon. Why? Because the supply chain process is an intricate web of multiple stakeholders operating within a complex ecosystem. Each industry has its unique characteristics, and every company approaches their supply chain differently. Add to this mix the varying degrees of technological adoption and the diverse ways information is generated and stored among stakeholders: ports, carriers, freight forwarders, and drayage companies, each using their own systems and methods to handle cargo and pass it along the supply chain.
This complexity, coupled with the inherent volatility and potential for disruptions within the supply chain, has transformed supply chain visibility into a monumental challenge within the conventional setting.
What is Supply Chain Visibility?
Supply chain visibility refers to tracking and monitoring the movement of goods/materials as they move through the various stages of the supply chain. The comprehensive visibility offered by supply chain visibility solutions ensures transparency and accessibility of tracking information for a product's journey from the moment it departs the shipper's warehouse to its final destination with the end consignee.
Crucially, real-time supply chain visibility ensures that the container tracking information is available at all points along the supply chain and accessible to all stakeholders within the network, including end customers. This transparency allows for greater control, efficiency, and responsiveness in managing and optimising the supply chain, ultimately enhancing customer satisfaction and the business's overall performance.
Why Is Supply Chain Visibility Important?
Companies have traditionally resorted to manual tracking methods in response to these intricate and unique challenges. Picture this: teams laboriously maintain spreadsheets to keep tabs on container movements, navigate through a maze of carrier websites to glean shipment statuses, and engage in seemingly endless phone calls with freight forwarders for updates. While these methods might suffice for companies with small shipments and dedicated personnel willing to invest countless hours in manual tracking, they fall woefully short in the grand scheme of things. This approach can only offer visibility into container whereabouts but can never predict potential disruptions or uncover cost-saving opportunities lurking within the supply chain.
Furthermore, relying on manual reporting introduces a slew of issues, creating gaps in your data and elevating the risk of critical information slipping through the cracks. In essence, it's a costly, reactive, and inherently unstable approach, ill-suited for tracking a significant volume of shipments effectively.
A Practical Scenario Highlighting the Need for Visibility
Imagine you're in the role of coordinating with a trucking company, meticulously planning the drayage for a batch of containers scheduled to arrive in just two days. Naturally, since these are the first containers due to arrive, they take top priority on your list. However, simultaneously, while you're engrossed in planning this drayage operation, another scenario unfolds. At a transhipment port, there's a batch of containers teetering on the edge of a potential rollover situation. Meanwhile, yet another shipment from your company is close to incurring hefty penalties due to a looming customs deadline.
Here's the crucial point: in a manual or limited visibility approach, these critical risks only come to light after the damage has already been done, and costs have piled up. It's akin to firefighting after the blaze has erupted and the financial toll has mounted.
Such bottlenecks cause:
- Manufacturing slowdown and inventory shortages
- Missed delivery schedules and disgruntled customers
- Poor drayage planning and inefficiencies in warehouse management
- Dissatisfaction among downstream B2B customers
- Unwanted costs and penalties affecting the bottom line
This underscores the urgent need for comprehensive supply chain visibility, where issues like these can be detected and addressed proactively, potentially saving both time and resources.
Therefore, the solution?
Enter supply chain visibility enabled by supply chain management technologies!
Supply Chain Visibility Platforms: Simplifying Data Complexity
So, how can supply chain visibility help mitigate risk?
In an intricate logistics network, a wealth of data swirls through each tier and mode, tracing the journey of goods from point A to point B. Historically, this invaluable data existed in various forms and was scattered across different departments and within data silos. The challenge arises when data originates from diverse systems, each speaking its unique language and residing in its own format. The puzzle lies in seamlessly integrating this data into a cohesive solution. Enter supply chain visibility platforms, the dynamic force that ensures this data flows seamlessly across every juncture of the supply chain, painting a unified and transparent picture for more informed and proactive decision-making.
At its core, supply chain visibility platforms represent an elevated level of supply chain orchestration. These platforms facilitate shared IT integration across all stakeholders engaged in the workflow. This shared infrastructure empowers decision-makers to access a common pool of data, effectively eradicating bottlenecks and streamlining the workflow. This unified view of the supply chain ecosystem minimises delays and problems, ensuring that critical information is readily available when and where it's needed most.